Friday, January 08, 2010

Holy Moses! Media need to gear up for tablets

Most media companies are better equipped to deal with the tablets Moses hauled down Mount Sinai than the dazzling new gizmos coming from Apple, Microsoft and a host of other technovators. This has to change fast.

As my friend Mark Potts ably noted here, tablets have the capability of revolutionizing newspapers, magazines, book publishing, television, movies, communications, applications and gaming. They also will further stress the tattered advertising and subscription models on which the change-averse legacy media continue to rely.

Tablets will the rock media as much, if not more, than the Internet, because they will powerfully combine ubiquitous connectivity, elegant displays, powerful computing and extreme portability. As the future Swiss Army knife of media platforms, they have the potential to obsolete not just print, broadcast television and Filofaxs but also desktops, laptops and smart phones.

Tablets demand a fresh approach to content and advertising that leverages the capabilities of this new medium in the same way TV required pictures and action, instead of stiff announcers recycling radio fare.

The first, feeble shot of the tablet revolution was fired on Wednesday when Steve Ballmer, the chief executive of Microsoft, showed off (video) a trio of pending products at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Ballmer did little to take the edge off the fevered expectation that Apple will debut a tablet of its own on Jan. 27. By most accounts, the upcoming iSlate, if that indeed is the name of the new Apple offspring, will look a lot like an iPhone fitted with a 9.5-inch diagonal screen vs. the 3.5-inch display on the original, ground-breaking smart phone.

With the first tablet computers headed to the marketplace, it’s already late for the slow-poke media companies to begin thinking about how to leverage this new medium.

But starting late is better than not starting at all. They have a limited amount of time to get it together, because widespread tablet adoption probably will have to wait until iPhone fanciers can work off the two-year indentures imposed by AT&T.

To their credit, a few media companies (be sure to see this must-watch video from Sports Illustrated) have put serious cycles into thinking about tablets. But even the best of the early efforts appear to have fallen short, because the legacy media guys are focused – as they were when the web debuted – on repurposing their existing offerings.

With tablets about to up the ante for the interactive publishing, here are the key things media companies must do to adapt:

:: Enrich. Equipped with bigger and better screens, faster processors and, one can only hope, improved network connectivity, tablets will provide dramatic, multimedia presentation for both news and advertising. While video to date has been an afterthought, if not to say an unwelcome intrusion, for print media, it will be de rigueur in the tablet environment. Deeper and easily searchable video offerings will be necessary for media outlets of every kind. Because tablet readers will be assimilating information at unprecedented rates, graphics and other forms of visualization will be essential to inform and engage audiences.

:: Alert. Because tablets will be highly portable, always on and the focal point for all manner of professional and personal communication, nearly all media offerings will have to include real-time content delivery like never before. As you can see by sampling such early experiments in insta-journalism as the beta versions of Nozzl News or Thoora.Com, this is easier said than done. However, publishers who cannot efficiently produce continuously captivating news products will suffer diminished relevance.

:: Personalize. Apart from a few users who attempt to protect their private activities, almost everything people do on tablets will be tracked: web searches, sites visited, articles read, videos viewed, phone calls, purchases, restaurants reviewed, calendar entries and financial information. Owing to global-positioning systems embedded in every unit, the devices not only will know your precise whereabouts but also which direction you are headed. Based on where you are standing, smart-phone applications like Urban Spoon can suggest a place to dine. Thanks to Loopt, the GPS-enabled social network, you can figure out where to meet friends or avoid your ex.

:: Assist. The download of more than 2 billion of the 100,000 available iPhone applications is a powerful demonstration of the potential utility consumers will find in their tablets. Apps do everything from dictating emails and providing driving directions to counting calories and organizing expense accounts. There’s even a Genius app to help you find more apps. While many media companies have created more-or-less elegant apps to port their legacy content to the iPhone, precious few have had the good sense to charge for them. Meantime, Mom and Pop developers around the globe have built six- and seven-figure businesses by selling games, virtual drum sets, alarm clocks and cocktail recipes for as little as 99 cents a download.

:: Target. By harnessing the above capabilities, publishers can create highly individualized news and entertainment products that represently highly targetable advertising opportunities. Putting the right pitch in front of the right person at the right time is the Holy Grail of advertising. Marketers will reward publishers handsomely for doing it and will forsake the ones who can’t.

Given the more than 15 years we have been waiting for most legacy media companies to develop Internet-literate products, there is reason to fear they will not segue smoothly into tablet computing.

Because tablets represent the last, best do-over for media companies, however, here’s hoping the continuing erosion of their traditional businesses will impel them to act before it’s too late.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait a minute, and think this through. I have yet to see the price of these machines, but one story I read said they will sell at $560 each. You have to have a compelling reason why readers will shell out that sort of money to get a newspaper that already comes free on their front doorstep. Will there be an industry subsidy for people who buy them, or free subscriptions to cover costs of transition? I agree they could be an industry savior, but the cost issues need to be dealt with first.

6:35 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...


One of the questions that I want to know is how tablets and e-readers will help media companies drive revenue. Subscriptions alone won't get it done. So, how will media companies be able to adapt to being multichannel (Web, smartphone, email, tablet, print, SMS, etc.). There's ever-more ways to publish content and less people to get it done.

We've just put together a series of stories on e-readers, and I'm still trying to learn more.

We're also doing a survey on media company adoption of e-readers, and we'd be happy to send you a copy. You can DM me on twitter, @pshibles, and I'd be happy to give you a copy.

Prescott Shibles

6:40 AM  
Blogger Bradley J. Fikes said...

"As the future Swiss Army knife of media platforms, they have the potential to obsolete not just print, broadcast television and Filofaxs but also desktops, laptops and smart phones."

Anonymous made a good point about the cost, which will have to come way down for tablets to be popular. Also, tablets will not "obsolete" (ugh) smart phones, which will be even more popular. You can't carry a tablet PC in your pocket.

7:28 AM  
Blogger casey rentz said...

Price will come down eventually, but the one big problem is that you can't carry a tablet in your pocket (yet, the iphone is too small or reading.) I have a macbook air, an iphone, and i subscribe to 5 consumer magazines. I love that i can stuff magazines in my purse or roll them up in my hand when Im traveling. It doesn't matter if they tear or drop to the ground--they are still readable.
Personally, I think flexible, durable, touchscreen e-paper is the future.

8:35 AM  
Anonymous Mike Donatello said...

The SI video is fantastic. At 46, I have never subscribed to SI, but I would do so for that content on a potential Apple tablet -- right after I sell a kidney to afford the latter.

9:07 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Yesterday I posted a video interview about the Future of Journalism with Robert Stephens, founder of the Geek Squad. Tablets, he said, are the wave of future and we will have several scattered around our homes. See: Indeed, he said start-ups should think tablets and mobile first.

9:20 AM  
Anonymous woodylewis said...

@casey_jane - You know, I used to think the iPhone was too small for reading as well. Then I downloaded Paul Auster's new novel because I'd read an excerpt in Granta, a literary magazine. I used the Amazon Kindle app because I'm an Amazon user, and I was stunned to realize that the approximately quarter-page view (in landscape mode) actually tightens my focus on the page. Now I'm reading Tolstoy's short stories on the iPhone as well. Paradigm shifts aren't always obvious..:)

10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you actually mean to use "to obsolete" as a transitive verb in the third graph? Not "to make obsolete"?

10:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I for one found the SI demo just a little too reminiscent of another bad CSI episode(cleverly mocked somewhere but I don't happen to have the link).

As I read these breathy comments, and the always breathy comments of Mark Potts when it comes to digital media, it reminds me an awful lot of the covers of old PC magazines. Which variation on 'Screaming' would the next issue bring.

I'm a bit surprised that this comes from you because I think that your posts are generally pretty thoughtful.

What really bothers me is that there is this constant exhortation to save old media through new media, yet no one has shown just how helpful the last exhortation was. For instance how much money have old media made off of smart phones? Off of Twitter. Off of all these ever-changing 'new' things?

Perhaps I'll be proven wrong. But I can't help but remember the old PC magazine 'Screaming, Blazing This and Thats' every time I read how new technology will save old media.

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool. I plan to finance one of these by selling my Newton.

12:31 PM  
Anonymous Perry Gaskill said...

No offense, but it seems to me there are an awful lot of people who are, once again, lining up to drink the Apple kool-aid. I mean, here's a device which hasn't even been released into the wild yet, and, if you believe people such as Mark Potts, it's already going to be the most astonishing, world-changing, paradigm-shifting thing ever conceived by mortals. The reality is probably closer to the notion that Steve Jobs, this age's equivalent of P.T. Barnum, has shifted Apple's marketing machine into overdrive to flog yet another product we all absolutely must have lest we feel somehow embarrassed when we're sitting in a Starbuck's with a soy half-caf latte.

To those who point to the SI's dog-and-pony show as some sort of supportive evidence of the pre-concluded runaway success of the Apple tablet, it might be helpful to point out that a demo is usually just a demo, and rarely reflects the actual thing. One of the bigger problems also with multimedia demo's is that they don't always effectively translate cost-wise into the day-to-day workflow. Just because we all have webcams doesn't mean we're all Steven Spielberg.

What also seems to be missing in the iSlate buzz is the fact that the tablet form factor has been around for a few years already and hasn't gotten much traction for reasons which are fairly obvious to anyone who has actually used one of the things. Those skeptical of that statement might want to wander down to the local 7-Eleven, for example, and ask to play with one of the NEC units the stores use for inventory control.

Still, Apple will probably sell a lot of tablets and make a lot of money. AT&T and Verizon will probably also make a lot of money. What seems to be unfortunate is that meanwhile, content producers are expected to keep cranking out ever-better stuff which nobody has actually figured out how to pay for. That's assuming they still have a job.

@Leonard - I read the transcript of Robert Stephens interview yesterday and, sorry, what struck me was the seeming logical fallacy of misplaced authority. I mean, here's a guy who essentially starts what winds up as the Wal-Mart of IT support and is asked to expound on the future of journalism? I don't get it. At the risk of a bad metaphor, it's the equivalent of asking a plumber to describe the restaurant business.

12:57 PM  
Anonymous Jstevens said...

For more wow factor, check out FlypMedia ( It's been doing most of what Sports Illustrated proposes for a few years now.

Tablet, smart phone, Web-enable organizations will still become marginalized if they don't create a safe place for the members of their communities to interact (a civil place that's as inclusive and accurate as possible), if they don't create a place where the members of their communities can do all the things that jurnos can do, and if they don't equip their communities with the tools to solve their problems.

Communities are demanding so much more from the news ecosystem than insta-news.

5:56 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The tablet will fail - here's why:

"It's too big to be small enough, it's too small to be big enough"

It's too big to be small enough (to fit in your pocket like an iPhone), it's too small to be big enough (to do real work, like Excel).

Sure, a woman will slip it into an over-sized purse, but what will a man do? (and men are geekier than women)

For barely larger than a tablet, you can have a MacBookAir - a fully-functioning computer that you already know how to use with all the software you need to do everything you want and need to do.

If you're gonna carry a tablet, why not carry a MacBookAir? Reburbs are less than $1000 - so they're priced competitively against the tablet. And they look as cool as any other gadget - even cooler when booted up in XP.

But what do I know? I still prefer my landline to my mobile phone because mobile phones don't support duplexing.

Don't know what duplexing is? That's a subject for another screed.

6:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always appreciate your optimism for the future of news organizations. The problem is that short-sighted corporations are reluctant to make technological investments. Look how long it took newspapers to adopt pagination. The reason dinosaurs died out was because they took too long to change directions. Most news organizations are just the same. But not to worry, the large corporations will be replaced by smaller, more nimble organizations. It's just the days of big-money journalism are nearly done.

11:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm trusting in Uncle Rupert to hand me a solution straight down from corporate to the far flung outreaches of his empire.

More of concern to me is that newsrooms do not have enough direction and visibility about the production skills they should be learning. Flash? Something else,

10:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the size of the smart phone will win out over the tablet - not being too familiar with these. Something a bit larger than a smart phone might win out over both. But easy portability is THE KEY here.

What are we going to be able to do on these tablets? Everything? If so, they have a good chance of getting our cold hard cash.

12:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

$560 for the machine, $100 a month for the air card to get the wireless connection so it updates all day long. Strikes me someone is going to make money off this, but it won't be newspaper owners. This smells a little like Google, which siphoned off $21 billion a year from newspapers without a squawk until publishers woke up.

6:11 PM  
Blogger Howard Owens said...

No tablet device will reach more than 20 percent of the market.

Newspapers made their way by being mass media product.

Mass market products need to reach much more than 20 percent of the market to be mass.

Newspapers are packaged goods product.

All digital media breaks up packages. Tablets are digital media.

Tablets will not break the fundamental nature of the Internet, which is an open network.

There is no hope of maintaining the package in an open network.

To think tablets or any other digital device will save the ass of MSM publishers is far beyond being even close to reasonable to consider. It's pure fantasy.

8:19 PM  
Blogger tgd said...

@Anonymous 6:11p
<< This smells a little like Google, which siphoned off $21 billion a year from newspapers without a squawk until publishers woke up. >>

Really? $21 billion in revenue "from newspaper companies"? Really?

$21 billion in revenue, yes. A portion from newspaper companies? Arguably (Google News didn't carry ads until 2009 - but I'll bet you factored that into your "analysis").

Yup, Google will doubtless seize the opportunities created by tablets. To Howard's point, tablets won't be ubiquitous (especially initially). They don't need to be - they're simply the next logical extension of a world in which consumers can get what they want, when where and how they want it.

We adapt. Or we die. So far, the evidence suggests traditional media are going to be left behind.

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Most media companies are better equipped to deal with the tablets Moses hauled down Mount Sinai than the dazzling new gizmos coming from Apple, Microsoft and a host of other technovators."

Hahaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Classic!

12:37 PM  

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